Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Strava CEO Steps Down, and Former CEO Returns, but Not for the Usual Reasons

Strava, the endurance-sports app maker, is going through a leadership change. CEO Michael Horvath will publicly announce today that he is stepping down for family reasons, and former CEO and board chairman Mark Gainey is returning to the top role. Horvath will become president and chairman of the board. But this is not the usual smoothed-over executive battle.

Horvath plans to post that the reason he is leaving is because his wife Anna has cancer, actually for a third time. Earlier this fall, she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in her liver that can be managed for an unknown amount of time.

To complicate matters, Horvath has been splitting time for years between Hanover, N.H., where his family lives, and San Francisco, where Strava is based. So he is stepping back in order to be at home with Anna. Horvath said they agreed to talk about it publicly in the hope that other people will benefit from their openness.

The other unusual part of this story is that Gainey is ready and waiting to take over from Horvath in what appears to be the smoothest of ways. The two men are longtime best friends — they rowed crew together at Harvard, and started their first company together in 1995. (It was actually originally supposed to be a “virtual locker room,” a la a ’90s version of Strava, but turned into the still-extant customer-communication company Kana.)

The two men co-founded Strava in 2009, and Gainey stepped down as CEO in 2010, coincidentally due to a family issue of his own, he said. Since then, Gainey said he has spent about half of his time working on Strava as Horvath’s sounding board, and the rest on various nonprofit and corporate boards.

Strava — which doesn’t give out a lot of numbers about its business, but said that its user base doubled in 2013, and its revenue tripled — has a fanatical community, Gainey noted.

“People don’t talk about ‘downloading an app,’ they talk about ‘joining Strava,'” he said. “We have a loyal, energetic and extremely active community. We’re just trying to be good shepherds.”

That’s true, but Strava is in the competitive and growing activity-tracking space, so it will need to be more agile than passive.

Horvath and Gainey said that what’s next for the 85-person company is expanding internationally — this year, 65 percent of new users came from outside the U.S. — and bringing its support for runners up to the level it maintains with cyclists.

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